The Soviet Army equivalent to the American Mk 19 40mm grenade launcher became the AGS-17 "Plamya" ("Flame"). The weapon entered limited service in 1970 and continues production today (2013) for the modern Russian Army. The AGS-17 has been used in several major conflicts since its inception including the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s, the 1st Chechen War (1994-1996), the 2nd Chechen War (1999-2000) and, most recently, with Syrian Army forces in the Syrian Civil War (2011-Present). The weapon series has found favor with military forces throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa as well as former Soviet-allied nations in Europe. Notable operators include Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, North Korea, Serbia and Vietnam among others.
Design and manufacture of the AGS-17 series is attributed to the famous KBP Instrument Design Bureau, Tula (formerly known as OKB-16 during the Soviet Empire years). Design work on the type began in 1967 to which quantitative serial production began in 1971. The weapon was developed particularly to counter the usefulness of the American Mk 19 series which proved so effective against concentrations of enemy infantry during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). The AGS-17 essentially follows the same form and function of the American design for it is an automatic grenade projecting system at heart, providing artillery-like support/suppression firepower over medium-to-long ranges in support of allied infantry actions.
Outwardly, the AGS-17 features a rectangular receiver of heavy, durable construction. The action is contained to the rear of the frame with the feed (noted by the obvious "hump" over the receiver) managed at the middle portion of the weapon. Belted grenades are fed through the right side of the receiver with the spent casings ejecting through the left. The barrel is short and internally rifled while sporting a small section of finning along its midway point (the barrel is removable). The AGS-17 is typically seated on an adjustable, trainable heavy-duty tripod allowing for both direct and indirect fire as required. The operator manages the weapon through a pair of horizontal grips (ribbed) while the internal action is of a simple blowback operation, allowing for a 400 round per minute rate-of-fire to be reached. Effective range is out to 1,700 meters and aided by way of adjustable iron sights though optics are optional for more accurized fire at range and fitted at the rear of the receiver. The entire system weighs 31 kilograms.
The AGS-17 makes use of a 30x29mm steel cartridge grenade available in a standard high-explosive fragmentation form and an "improved" fragmentation variant (VOG-17M and VOG-30 respectively). These are fed through a 30-round belt usually housed in a metal "snail type" container fitted along the right side of the receiver.
The AGS-17 received its baptism of fire with Soviet Army forces during the bloody Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) where it quickly proved its tactical value. It was an effective suppression weapon and equally useful in dislodging enemy forces hidden in the mountainsides or under cover. Within time, special vehicle mounts were in play that allowed the AGS-17 to be fired from utility, transport and armored vehicles. Additionally, an airborne mounting installation devised for Mil Mi-8 and Mi-24 transport/assault helicopters was introduced and utilized to equally good effect. Vehicle/airborne versions could further be installed with electrical operation for firing from within the confines of the vehicle or aircraft.
The AGS-17 is locally produced in Bulgaria (Arsenal AD), China (NORINCO), Cuba and Iraq. In Finnish Army service, the AGS-17 is known as the "30 KrKK AGS-17" while Montenegro and Serbia designate their systems as the "M93". Current Russian AGS-17 stocks are being replaced by the more modern AGS-30 series - a similar blowback-operated, though vastly lighter, weapon retaining the same 30mm grenade support. Nevertheless, the AGS-17 should enjoy continued use on the modern battlefield for some time to come.